Non-constructive ambiguity on Iran

Jerusalem Post   April 15, 2012
By Yaakov Katz

But if West does not get job done, military option will move back to front of the line

Photo by Reuters

As expected, the talks between the world powers and Iran ended on Saturday with a decision – not one that would suspend the enrichment of uranium or escalate economic sanctions – but one to hold another round of talks in about five weeks.

Israel is likely to remain quiet until then and allow the West to try and get the job done. But if that doesn’t happen, the military option will move back to the front of the line right when the summer begins, a time some might call the perfect season – due to clear skies – for a military strike.

But what happens if the talks conclude with a resolution that is neither a clear victory for Israel nor a clear failure? What if the Iranians agree to suspend uranium enrichment to a level of 20 percent but refuse to stop enrichment to a level of 3.5%? What if Iran agrees to surrender its stockpile of enriched uranium but refuses to open its facilities to international inspections? Such outcomes would place Israel in a difficult position.

On the one hand, it would not be satisfied. But on the other, it would not want to do anything that might be seen as undermining an outcome likely to be hailed by US President Barack Obama – who is looking to be reelected – as a diplomatic victory.

Attacking in such a situation would go against everything Israel so far has tried to do, which is to show the world that it is not an obstacle to diplomacy and negotiations so that when the day comes and it can no longer wait it will be able to say, “We gave you a chance but we no longer have a choice.”

Jerusalem made its conditions for the talks known ahead of time. The strategy was to ensure that the West would go into the talks knowing it would take a lot to satisfy Israel. On the other hand, Jerusalem purposely set the bar higher than that of Washington so that if something less were achieved it might still be enough.

Ultimately though, Israeli defense officials are skeptical that the talks will bear fruit. 

Iran is simply perceived to be close to the bomb and is not yet hurting enough, despite the unprecedented sanctions.

With already five tons of low enriched uranium and over 100 kilograms of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, Iran already has enough fissionable material to make four nuclear weapons if it decides to.

Tehran has overcome every obstacle placed in its way for the last decade, including sabotage and assassinations, and today is on the threshold.

Getting it to stop is not going to be easy.

Yaakov Katz is the military correspondent and defense analyst for The Jerusalem Post and the Israel correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, the international military magazine.

His first book, Israel vs. Iran – The Shadow War was published in Israel in March 2011 and was a national bestseller. It will be published in the US by the fall.

Katz led the Post’s coverage of the recent IDF wars and operations including the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009.

Originally from Chicago, Katz moved to Israel in 1993 and served in the IDF Armored Corps. He lectures widely in the US and Israel on military affairs, lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three daughters and has a law degree from Bar-Ilan University.


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